Toilet paper dodgeball, theme dinners: How bored families are surviving the lockdown

Allyson Chiu

THE WASHINGTON POST – To fully understand the ‘Quarantine Olympics’, a zany Internet trend born amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, look no further than where it all started: The Presley family’s home in Cornelius, North Carolina.

If anyone had peeked inside the tree-lined residence recently, they would have witnessed the Presleys playing dodgeball – with a twist.

None of the players could see each other, and instead of balls, they were armed with full rolls of toilet paper.

“We played through all the board games and everything, so we had to get creative,” Alex Presley, 25, who has been hunkering down with his girlfriend, twin brother and parents since last month, told The Washington Post.

The rules of “blindfolded toilet paper dodgeball,” as Alex calls it, are simple: Once you’re hit, you’re out, and only then can you take off whatever you’re using to cover your eyes.3

Alex Presley, Taylor Sharpe, Zach Presley, Wendy Presley and Lee Presley play a game with toilet paper while sheltering in place at home in North Carolina amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. PHOTO: ALEX PRESLEY

To make the game even more challenging, the Presleys also spun in circles to dizzy themselves before starting.

The result, as expected, was utter chaos.

In video of the melee, set to a soundtrack of Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik and shared by Alex on TikTok, toilet paper whizzes through the air in every direction as five people stumble blindly around a living room with their faces covered by sweatshirt hoods.

Shouts of “Don’t throw them too hard” mingle with the muted thuds of the rolls bouncing off windows and walls.

While other parents may be hesitant to allow their adult children to turn the family home’s living room into an indoor dodgeball arena, keeping up with their sons’ shenanigans is nothing new for the Presleys.

“Since they were little, everybody wants to come to the Presley house because there’s something always going on over here,” said Lee Presley, 58, a pilot for American Airlines.

What is new, however, is that the family’s recent nutty game night activities have now made them Internet famous.

But the Presleys aren’t the only people who have gone viral for tapping into their inner child as a way to combat quarantine boredom. From the United States (US) to the United Kingdom (UK), families are becoming social media celebrities for tackling equally absurd projects while sheltering in place, such as extravagant themed dinners and viral parody videos, entertaining many who are desperate for levity as the novel coronavirus continues to spread worldwide.

Blindfolded toilet paper dodgeball is just one event in the Presleys’ ‘Quarantine Olympics’, a viral competition series created by Alex that has taken off on TikTok over the past couple of weeks.

The contest began in early April after Alex, bored of playing traditional games, suggested that his family attempt a variation of a challenge he had seen in which participants compete to see how long they can drink water from a cup that’s being steadily filled before it overflows only using a straw.

The Presleys’ ‘Straw Challenge’ – which Lee won by a landslide after slurping water non-stop for more than 40 seconds – was an instant hit, drawing roughly 7.5 million views on TikTok and more than 4,000 comments.

Now, the family is coming up with new events, much to the delight of fans who have started rooting for their favourite player and trying versions of the games themselves at their own homes, Alex said.

In recent days, the family has faced off in the ‘Social Distancing 6ft Challenge’, a ‘Toilet Paper Toss’, and an ‘Easter Egg Battle’, among many other unconventional contests, keeping track of their wins on a hand-drawn leader board.

“We try to keep them simple and something that other families that are watching can play along as well,” Alex said of the events. “A lot of people are in our similar situation, where they’re all together with their families and they’re running out of things to do.”

One such family who has also found themselves with too much free time is the Cannuscios from Massachusetts. Only instead of coming up with wacky games, Derek Cannuscio, a 14-year-old with a passion for cooking and a flair for dramatics, has been turning his family’s dinners into extravagant themed experiences that have achieved wild popularity on TikTok and garnered widespread attention.

Derek told The Washington Post he treats his family to themed dinners two or three nights a week, combining his skills in the kitchen with light comedy to recreate common restaurant experiences and food-related moments from popular TV shows.

In one video, Derek is a waitress, serving his family baskets of chicken wings dressed in a homemade uniform. On another night, he’s a hibachi chef, energetically whipping up fried rice and grilling shrimp on a portable griddle.

Aside from racking up millions of views, Caitlin Cannuscio told The Post that her brother’s dinners, which are made using supplies he finds around the house, have inspired other families to start experimenting with their meals and coming up with their own themes.

“I don’t know what else I would be doing in quarantine without this,” said Caitlin, 18, who has been documenting her brother’s culinary adventures on TikTok.

Meanwhile, other families stuck at home have channeled their pent-up energy into creating elaborate parody videos.

The Marshes, a family of six from the UK, went viral late last month after sharing their isolation-themed arrangement of One Day More from the musical Les Misérables.

Ben Marsh told the BBC that the new lyrics were “compiled out of the different frustrations that everyone has had in the family over the last couple of weeks that we’re all experiencing at home”.

“One day more, another day another destiny, shopping for online delivery,” sings Danielle Marsh, Ben’s wife, in a video uploaded to Facebook. “I’ve tried again only to find there’s nothing ‘til September time.”

The video has since received worldwide recognition, even catching the attention of Academy Award winner Anne Hathaway, who won the Oscar for best supporting actress in 2013 for her role as Fantine in Les Misérables.

“Bravo!!!!!” Hathaway wrote in an Instagram post, sharing the clip.

More recently, Canadian author Joel Sutherland, his wife Colleen Morris and their three children filmed a live-action parody of the title sequence for The Simpsons using a smartphone, old Halloween costumes and props found around their house just outside of Toronto.

The project, which Morris told The Post took about two weekends to complete, painstakingly recreates the long-running cartoon’s introduction shot-for-shot.

Sutherland posted the finished product to Twitter on April 8, where it has been shared by the The Simpsons showrunner, Al Jean, and the show’s official Twitter account.

“Doing creative projects with each other is a good way of keeping yourself busy and keeping yourself not depressed,” Morris said.

“I think it’s very easy to feel sort of bereft and to get down, and it is very easy to just not do anything.”

But beyond providing relief from being bored, for many of the families, taking part in the outlandish activities during lockdowns has helped strengthen their relationships with each other.

Before sheltering in place, Caitlin Cannuscio said her family was often so busy with school and work that they “never really ate dinner together all at the same time.”

“I’m supposed to be at college, so I haven’t had dinner with them in a while,” said Caitlin, a freshman at Fordham University in New York. “This has all really just brought us together.”